WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday announced $14 billion in commitments from U.S. businesses to invest in Africa, as representatives from nearly 100 American and African companies gathered in Washington to discuss ways to boost economic partnerships. During a panel discussion with CEOs, former President Bill Clinton declared that the U.S. has “only barely scratched the surface” of Africa’s economic potential. Indeed, Africa’s economy is enjoying rapid advancement. The continent is home to six of the world’s fastest-growing economies. And a decade of solid growth has created a middle class with increased spending power – 350 million strong in 2010 by the African Development Bank’s count, up from 220 million in 2000.
Other nations, most notably China, have been moving aggressively to tap into growing African markets. China surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009. “We also realize we have some catching up to do,” said Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and a billionaire businessman. “We are letting Europe and China go faster than the U.S.” President Barack Obama was scheduled to address the business summit Tuesday afternoon.